Prior to the 2018 Field Trip I was contacted by Craig Darveniza by phone after he had seen an article in a horticultural magazine about the project. En route to Innisfail from Cairns I called him and asked to come and visit, but it was unfortunate timing as the Great Wheelbarrow Race – a three day event involving teams of runners pushing a wheelbarrow 140kms between Chillagoe and Mareeba – was about to commence and he was going up to the tablelands for pre-race preparations. His brother, Hayden was around though and so I arranged to meet him shortly after our phone call.
Coincidentally I had driven to the start of the road to their property earlier that morning in search of a farm that I later realised no longer exists. The biosecurity warning sign prevented me from travelling any further on the first visit, and was the second visit’s meeting point. I parked my car and rode with Hayden up to the house. The road takes a relatively sharp incline into the rainforest and the surface is a little uneven, but was greatly accentuated by the stiff suspension in Hayden’s ute. I tried to video the drive but it proved futile.
We paused half way up at a relatively elevated spot given the short distance we’d come, and looked through a break in the trees over the river to another banana plantation visible through the misty rain. Not far beyond our stop we emerged from the rainforest to hilly pastures where Hayden’s family house is perched. Inside I was introduced to his sons Will and Max, who were making cheese toasties and preparing for a gruelling weekend of wheelbarrow-pushing.
I sat down and Hayden brought out a rambutan carton that I had not seen before, which he used to tell the story of the farm. Hayden and Craig now grow pawpaw and bananas but their family started out growing cane in 1980 when they had acquired the land. Due to the decreasing returns of the cane crop they sought to diversify into exotic fruits. At the time not many farmers were growing exotic fruits and the Darvenizas travelled to South East Asia to look at various types of crops. They decided on rambutan and grew it for 30 years until cyclone Larry, and later Yasi, wiped out 90% of their trees. At that point they decided not to continue to grow the fruit as it takes approximately 7 years to establish the trees and get the first fruit, a risky investment in a cyclone-prone area. The carton (pictured above) is interesting for a number of reasons aside from its style, which is one of the more lively designs I have encountered. It has a map of Queensland on it and emanating from Innisfail is a Cornucopia issuing forth exotic fruit, and alongside the horn is a cassowary. The concept was to portray the region as the country’s source of exotic fruits. Since the time that they started packing fruit the Darveniza family shortened their trading name to DARVEN EXOTIC FRUIT, for simplicity’s sake. On the main artwork there is the even more abbreviated DARVO’S RAMBUTAN, which alongside the cornucopia is a nice mix of the mythological and the colloquial.
The current carton that the Darvenizas use for packing their fruit is the outstanding Darven Exotic Fruit carton (pictured above). The carton is vibrant magenta with a white horizontally positioned oval band at its centre. Hayden admitted that since they started using it he “always called it purple, but… it’s pink.” Within this band is black capitalised Helvetica text that reads DARVEN EXOTIC FRUIT. Within the oval band is a graphic of a pawpaw, sectioned, using the pawpaw’s internal ‘negative space’ to form star-shaped smiley face with sunglasses on. Hayden says the sunnies were influenced by the Blues Brothers. Designed by Hayden’s wife, Brigid, the Darven Exotic Fruit carton is epic in its simplicity, and one of the more recognisable and admired cartons in the collection.
I showed Hayden and Will the Cartonographer Instagram account in order to illustrate the popularity of their carton, and realised that there was another post that had artwork from an older Darven Exotic Fruit carton alongside the current one. The older image was taken at the Orora art department where there were books of photographs of earlier carton artwork, salvaged by one of the in-house artists, Camille Giacca, that were samples to show clients before the age of digital photographs. It is unclear whether the artwork was ever used on a printed carton- Hayden did not recall it – but it was interesting to compare the two nonetheless. Hayden said that he didn’t recall the artwork ever being used on their carton but that Lorikeets were a major problem at one stage and would get drunk eating the ripe rambutan. Looking back through the photographs taken at Orora of those old fruit carton artworks I encountered another Darven artwork, which appears to have been the basis of their rambutan carton, with slightly different font and artwork. I then trawled through the photographs and realised that there was a number of other cartons that were older and alternative versions of cartons currently in the collection, which highlighted to me the historical role that the collection is inadvertently and increasingly playing over time.
Prior to leaving the farm I took a panoramic video of the landscape surrounding the farm’s house. Unfortunately the rain and clouds prevented sight to the ocean but it was still a beautiful vista. I also took a photo of Will, Hayden and Max each holding a carton from the farm. At this point they suggested I join their team on one of the legs of the Great Wheelbarrow Race, an idea that I thought sounded novel but unlikely. I happened to run into them a few days later at the Dimby Dinner Do, an event the night before the final leg of the race in Dimbulah, and they convinced me to join them for the first 10km of the final leg. As it happened I stayed on board for the entire 40km. It was not exactly what I’d expected to be doing as part of my research, but it was surprisingly helpful as I had the opportunity to finally catch up with Craig Darveniza and another farmer, Lewis O’Farrell who once had an organic banana farm near East Palmerston. Even driving through the land at 10km for 4 hours was helpful for understanding the region in a different way, especially considering I had been travelling at at average of 100km/h for several days trying to cover as much ground as possible visiting farms. The Darvenizas were very welcoming and entertaining and I left with the impression that they enjoy life. When time came to leave on the day I visited their farm, Hayden drove me back down to my car and told me how Will and Max love the place, and love working on the farm. They take themselves out to the reef, they fish on the river, and they love the work too. And when I look again at their carton there is a sense of humour and fun that is definitely characteristic of all their personalities.
This project is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.